The Buffalo Bandits have dropped three straight one-goal decisions in the playoffs to the Toronto Rock (Photo Credit: Sean Rudyk)
For the third year in a row, the Buffalo Bandits’ season has been cut short by the Toronto Rock.
The Bandits lost a heartbreaker to the Rock, 7-6 in the East Divisional Semifinal on Saturday night before 9.472 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Former Bandit Brenden Thenhaus scored the game-winning goal with 1:35 to play in the fourth quarter, breaking a 6-6 tie. It also gave the Rock their first lead of the game.
Thenhaus’ goal was scored with a one-handed, underhand desperation shot just as the shot clock was about to expire. Even though Thenhaus got very little on the shot, it surprised Bandits goaltender Anthony Cosmo and snuck in off the near post.
The Bandits appeared to tie the game with less than one second to play on a dramatic power-play goal by John Tavares, but upon further review, the referees determined Tracey Kelusky was in the crease when the ball crossed the goal line.
“A stupid play at a stupid time. That explains our whole season,” said a dejected Darris Kilgour, Buffalo’s head coach and general manager. “We just couldn’t get any goals in the second half.
“You do something like that, what do you expect is going to happen. We played too much defense, got too tired and they wore us down.”
The Bandits completely controlled the tone early, jumping out to a 4-0 lead in the first quarter and ultimately heading into halftime with a 6-2 lead.
Buffalo’s defense was superb throughout the game, but especially in the first half, continually stifling the Rock’s high-powered offense.
To underscore how well the Bandits defense played, Toronto’s seven goals marks the fewest goals scored by a winning team in NLL playoff history.
But Buffalo was blanked in the second half, failing to score in the final 34:03 of the game.
“We didn’t move the ball as often as we did in the first half,” said Tavares, who had two goals and one assist to lead the Bandits in scoring. “The offense was a lot more stagnant, guys just trying to create on their own as opposed to moving the ball.”
Rock goaltender Nick Rose deserves plenty of credit for Buffalo’s offensive woes, stopping 36 of 42 shots, including all 21 he faced in the second half.
“[Rose] played real well,” said Kilgour. “We had some good opportunities, some one-on-one’s with him and we couldn’t bury the shots when we needed to and they did. It added up to a one-goal loss.”
That Thenhaus, who was released by Buffalo just before the season started, scored the game winning made for a particularly bitter pill to swallow.
“It’s pretty ironic,” said Kilgour. “It’s not like [Thenhaus] lit up the lamp or went out there and was an All-Star for Toronto. He got a lucky goal. One-hand, underhand that rolled into the net. “
Cosmo was surprised by the unorthodox shot.
“That’s our season right there, in a nutshell,” Cosmo said. “One-hander, he’s not even looking at the net, off the post and in with one second left on the [shot clock]. It’s just one of those where the bounces didn’t go our way and there goes the season.”
Kasey Beirnes single-handedly brought the Rock back into the game, scoring a natural hat trick over a 6:57 span of the third and fourth quarter, ultimately tying the game 6-all with 9:43 to play.
With the goaltender pulled, the Bandits had one last opportunity to tie the game as Rock defender Bill Greer was called for holding the stick with 7.5 seconds to play.
Once the goal was waved off, so was the Bandits’ season.
“I thought we tied it up,” said Tavares. “We ran the flying-V again and it worked, it’s just unfortunate Tracey [Kelusky] got pushed into the crease.
“It was an odd finish and it was kind of indicative of our regular season where we had so much hope at the beginning and then went on a really long down slide and salvaged the season at the end of the year and kind of ran out of gas today in the second half.”
Goals are automatically reviewed in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter, an important fact as Toronto had already used its second half challenge.
Cosmo played very well in goal, making 48 saves on 55 shots, keeping the Bandits in it late despite the lack of offense.
“It was frustrating, but at the same time personally I thought I played well, but at the end of the day we’re not going on and Toronto is,” said Cosmo. “Their goalie played well, [Rose] had a great second half and gave them the opportunity to win. It’s frustrating but our team battled.”
After a rough start to his Bandit career after being acquired in February, the 2007 NLL Goaltender of the Year really seemed to settle in during the final weeks of the season and into the playoffs.
“I’m stepping up and playing well and being a leader on this team,” said Cosmo. “Hopefully these guys will have me back next year. It’s a great organization to play for, lots of character in our room.
“Next year we’ve got to figure things out and make sure that we have a better regular season and make a run into the playoffs.”
Bandits’ defender Ian Llord suffered a separated shoulder on a big check in the first quarter. No penalty was called, much to Kilgour’s dismay.
“It’s tough. I thought there were some calls that should have been made, some absolutely obvious calls,” said an agitated Kilgour. “I am sick of it. Three years in a row I lose to Toronto by one goal and there were huge calls that affected the outcome of the game.”
Ultimately, it was the Bandits inability to put the ball in the goal that led to their demise. Finding consistency on offense was a problem throughout the regular season and it proved critical in their undoing in the end.
“I guess you’ve got to learn things from these kind of losses,” said Buffalo’s Chris White. “Go at her next year, that’s the only thing we can do right now.”